Court upholds City of Vancouver’s authority to define affordable housing

West End Neighbours loses legal challenge of development bylaws
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A B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled today that the City of Vancouver can define “affordable rental housing” as it sees fit.

Residents may disagree with the city on what is affordable or not, but questions about policies are not for the court to resolve, Justice Susan Griffin states in her decision today (May 30). According to Griffin, it’s something that has to be settled through elections.

“Despite the thoughtful arguments advanced by the petitioner, I find that the petitioner’s position falls into the category of criticism of Council’s political choices,” Griffin writes. “That is not a matter on which the Court ought to weigh in. Instead, the forum for these arguments is the ballot box.”

The petitioner in this case was the West End Neighbours Residents Society.

The organization challenged bylaws that provide incentives for developers of market rentals. These include the waiving of development-cost levies, reduction of parking requirements, smaller apartment sizes, and permission to build more units than otherwise would have been permitted.

In question was the city’s Rental 100: Secured Market Housing Policy, which succeeded the now expired Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing.

The city defines affordable market rental rates for initial occupancy as those that do not exceed $1,443 a month for studio units, $1,517 for one-bedroom units, and $2,061 for two-bedroom accommodations.

Councillor Geoff Meggs of the city’s ruling Vision Vancouver caucus welcomed the ruling.

“I’m really relieved and pleased by the decision,” Meggs told the Straight by phone. “I was confident all the way through that the city would be upheld in this regard.”

In her decision, Griffin states that council did not act outside the parameters of the Vancouver Charter “in choosing the scheme it adopted”.

“The Council had power to establish what constitutes an eligible development of ‘for-profit affordable housing’,” the judge writes.

She notes that the core of the petitioner’s concern is that city policies “have the effect of subsidizing developers at the cost to other taxpayers without solving a larger problem of affordable housing”.

Citing jurisprudence, Griffin points out that “the fact that a by-law imposes a greater share of the tax burden on one class of ratepayers as compared to another is not a reason for setting aside a by-law”.

“I have also already commented that if the members of the petitioner society do not like the form of development that the By-laws encourage and do not feel the City has gone far enough in establishing affordable housing in the City, this is a matter to raise in elections but is not for the Court on this challenge,” Griffin states.

Councillor Meggs maintained that the “direction of Rental 100 is one that the city should move in and that voters actually wanted us to move to produce housing that was affordable to people who have middle incomes and prepared to rent”.

Nathalie Baker, counsel for the petitioners, told the Straight by phone that her clients are disappointed.

According to Baker, the debate about affordable housing is certain to continue.

“They’ve defined it in a way that, I think, many people wouldn’t agree with how they’ve defined it, which is basically market rate rental for moderate income earners,” Baker said.

Baker didn’t know if the West End residents group will appeal.

Comments (5) Add New Comment
West Ender
Not mentioned here is that because of WEN's lawsuit, the City blinked and was forced to change its ways, hours before the response deadline in December 2013. City Council quietly amended bylaws to fix things WEN challenged. The judge's decision this May reflects the situation AFTER those fixes that were triggered by the lawsuit. Thanks to it, the City was forced to articulate in numbers for the first time what they considered "affordable" -- e.g., up to $1,669 a month for one bedroom, and reveal word games being played by politicians and City staff. And if anyone was wondering, the judge also made this point clear: "The City is not attempting by this program to create rental housing for low income households."
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just because it's legal
doesn't make it right.
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Balance Please
The fact that the City's (amended) STIR and Rental 100 programs might have been found to be within the law doesn't make the implementation of this program any more appropriate. The City does need to encourage the creation of rental housing, but they need to do this in a way that balances the needs of neighbourhoods with the objectives of developers. This is a longer-term challenge that requires some longer-term thinking rather than ramming giant buildings into any vacant space available to "check-mark" a policy objective. Giving away density the way they have been doing simply encourages the basic expectations for development potential to be re-set, drives up the cost of land, and puts neighbourhood character, livability, access to sunlight, and protection of heritage lower on the priority list than profits for developers.
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"Affordable" Housing in Vancouver
Great. So the City's relieved to see that Councillor Kerry Jang's position is endorsed in the courts, that "Affordable housing is housing that someone can afford." Gives us all a clearer idea of where Vision Vancouver is taking this city. We should all keep this in mind the next time the Mayor's Office publishes a newsletter about how new housing will improve affordability in Vancouver...
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Nelson100
"That is not a matter on which the Court ought to weigh in. Instead, the forum for these arguments is the ballot box." We should take this recommendation to heart. For the many concerned about Vision's (and the NPA's) close ties with developers and disrespect for community the ultimate answer is to be found at the ballot box.

Removing Vision from power is the only way to take our city back from the development mafia who considers Vancouver their personal ATM machine. Encourage your friends, neighbours and family to get out and vote next election.
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